Festival to amass the tallest of masts
By JON WILSON, Times Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG -- Imagine, if you will:
Sails snapping, a fleet of tall-masted ships comes walloping up the Pinellas Point channel, a couple of them almost as long as football fields. From decks, cannon snouts yawn.
The fleet passes the Pier, bears down on Snell Isle, makes a U-turn -- or whatever the nautical equivalent -- slides back past the breakwater and heaves starboard into Bayboro Harbor.
A cannon broadside erupts, knocking echoes off the downtown towers.
" . . . and the landlubbers lie down below, below, below . . . "
Sing, if you must.
Tall ships are coming June 26-30 for Americas' Sail St. Petersburg, the city's first maritime festival.
"We took on the event because the timing is so appropriate. That time of year is a dead time," said David Calametti, CEO of St. Pete Events, a nonprofit group formed for the festival. It's getting help from government, businesses and maritime enthusiasts.
Having had the Bounty in port for years, the city is no stranger to tall ships.
But having this many present at once is unusual, and perhaps unique in modern times, organizers say. They expect more than 100,000 people to visit the Bayboro docks, where the vessels will tie up.
Port water depth of 24 feet gives the bigger ships clearance underneath, said port director Michael Perez.
About 1,800 feet of dock space provides enough room to tie up, he said.
A Russian submarine, a peculiar, long-tenured port resident, departed in December 2000. Otherwise there would have been a problem.
The sub went to Nova Scotia and was used in a Harrison Ford movie called K-19: The Widowmaker. Word is, a maritime museum in the northeast wants it. It is definitely not rebounding to St. Petersburg, Perez hastened to say.
Mayor Rick Baker learned in January about the possibility of bringing the tall ships here. He asked Don Shea, the Downtown Development Partnership boss, to give it a shot on short notice.
"If we had a year to plan this, all I would do is lose more sleep. Having five months to do it is both a blessing and a curse," said Shea, who is acting as the event's general chairman.
"Heart of oak are our ships, Jolly Tars are our men . . . "
Six to 10 ships are expected. Two are trainers for the navies of Brazil and Venezuela. Others are privately owned. Some are used for charters, tours and educational programs.
The festival celebrates the last leg of an event that begins with a tall ship race between Curacao and Jamaica earlier in June. Trophies will be presented at a black-tie affair at the Vinoy.
A highlight will be the June 27 Parade of Sail, free to watch along the downtown waterfront from 10 a.m. until noon. A dockside festival starts afterward. Tours of the boats will be available for $20 or less.
St. Petersburg is a convenient stop for the fleet, which is on its way to Mobile, Ala. for the city's tricentennial.
"To the best of my knowledge, this has never happened in the Gulf of Mexico before. This is the first event," said Doug Brown, executive vice president of Americas' Sail, which puts on periodic tall ship races to spark interest in maritime history and the discipline of old-fashioned sailing.
At a planning meeting last week, Jack Glasure, president of St. Pete Events, asked Brown a pointed question about the ships:
"Will they come?"
Said Brown: "Yes. We are following up on the ships all the time. We wine and dine ambassadors and naval attaches. All you can do is follow up, follow up, follow up."
The city is not putting money directly into the event but is providing substantial in-kind support to the ships in the areas of water supply, garbage collection, leisure services and safety.
Sponsorships will fund most of the event. The smaller ships usually get between $10,000 and $15,000 to visit a port, Calametti said.
And from now until June, a load of preparations awaits.
Phone banks have to be set up. Dockside exhibitions will include arts, entertainment and an international food court. Special events will entertain officers and crew. An armed services band and the Florida Orchestra are scheduled to take part. Educational programs and ecumenical services are in the works.
Shea said he can use volunteers. Call 825-3797. The event's Web site is www.stpetetallships.com.
" . . . And haul away, Joe. . . . "
Here's a look at some of the tall ships expected in St. Petersburg June 26-30:
Bat'Kivshcyna -- Representing Ukraine, the 90-footer is a converted steel-hull Russian fishing supply boat which has been reinforced with ferro-cement.
Cisne Branco -- The 256-foot clipper was built for the Brazilian navy to train future officers. The name means "White Swan," taken from lyrics to Brazil's navy anthem.
Simon Bolivar -- The 270-foot barque is used as a training ship for the Venezuelan navy. Its numerous trans-Atlantic voyages and American port tours have made the ship a popular attraction.
Eye of the Wind -- A 132-footer, it was built in 1911 as a topsail schooner. After a 1969 fire destroyed the wheelhouse and a deck, a group of square-rigger enthusiasts rebuilt the hulk.
Larinda -- An 86-foot replica of a 1767 Boston schooner, it carries cannons for mock engagements and likely will fire a broadside upon entering Bayboro Harbor.
Meka II -- At 54 feet, it is the smallest of the vessels and is modeled as a pirate ship, carrying six cannons. The captain is a pirate impersonator whose legal name is Horatio Sinbad.
Wolf -- Designated flagship of the Conch Republic, the 74-foot topsail schooner's home port is Key West. Captain is Finbar Gittleman, the republic's Rear Admiral and Second Sea Lord.
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